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The Best Way to Make Gains in the Gym: Track Your Workouts


I’ve been lifting for over a decade now.  Wow, that’s kind of weird to say…feeling old! 

I started lifting weights my sophomore year of high school.  When you first start lifting, it’s pretty easy to track your workouts mentally because everything is new, so you are absorbing everything like a sponge.  “I did the bar for bench” or “I did 25’s on each side for squats.” 

In addition, when you’re a high school guy, it’s easy to track what you’re doing because you’re also comparing yourself to everyone else.  “Oh, he’s doing 135 pounds on the bench press.  I need to work up to that.”

After high school (and college), I did a variety of different workouts, but always had a specific routine.  I would usually stick with the same routine for 3-6 months before switching.  I didn’t track the weight I was doing and sometimes I would skip certain exercises or even certain days…like leg day =).

This wasn’t the kind of progress I was looking for.  It also was just a way to maintain, which isn’t very exciting.  I always like to be improving. There is no better way to improve than to track your workouts so you can ensure you move up in either weights or reps.

So, let’s fast forward to today.  For the last 12 months, Rachael and I have been tracking our workouts and this has done a few positive things for us:

  1. It allows us to look back at the previous workout and see how many reps and how much weight we did for specific exercises. This is extremely valuable because it allows us to set a goal for each set or each exercise.  I want to beat my previous workout by at least 1 rep or increase my weight.  It adds some extra motivation.
  2. It helps me break through mental barriers and avoid plateaus. I look at my previous workout and say to myself: “I did 3 sets of 10, 10, and 8 reps.  I should be able to get at least 10, 10, 9 this time.  I know I’m getting stronger, so I push myself to beat my previous workout, even if it’s just by 1 rep.  If I didn’t track what I did, I might “misremember” my previous workout thinking I did 10, 8, 8.  So, I may not push myself as hard as I should.
  3. It helps us keep momentum. Because we track our workouts, we don’t want to miss a workout.  We put the date at the top of every single workout, so we get that nagging feeling in the back of our minds if we miss too many days in a row.

“What gets measured gets improved.” – Anonymous

This has been proven over and over.  If you measure something, you can improve it.  If you don’t measure it, how can you possibly improve?  When you don’t know where you started or what the journey has looked like, how will you know if you’ve completed it or made progress?

Since we started tracking our workouts, I’ve made the biggest gains in the gym since back when I was training for college football.  And yes, this is somewhat speculative because I wasn’t able to measure my gains then because I wasn’t tracking them!  However, I know I wasn’t going up in weight consistently like I am now.  I just did the same weight and reps over and over again.

Ok, action time!

Here’s an easy way to track your workouts.  Grab a small spiral journal/notebook for $2 at Wal Mart and keep it in your car with a pen.  (or you can always buy a fancy notebook)  Rachael and I write the date, the workout number we’re on (we have a 4 day workout), and then we just list the exercises and the weights and reps we do.  This allows us to look back to our starting point as well as the workout prior.  

Maybe you’re thinking that you don’t want to be the nerd in the gym walking around with a notebook, but it’s extremely motivating to look back 6 or 12 months and look at the weight we were using.  Recently, I started an excel sheet that tracks various points in time so that we can see our progress and chart it.  I’ll share this with you all when I get it up to date. 

So, what do you think?  Do you track your workouts?  Do you feel like it helps you progress faster?

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